Reiffel to exploit speed of change

Guy Hodgson meets the Australian bowler with an aptitude for English conditions who has made a late but effective entrance on the tour stage
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The Independent Online
It is doubtful Michael Atherton and his team found much to console themselves when they looked through the list of Australian bowlers coming to tour England - but one omission will have come as a pleasant surprise. Shane Warne, all trickery, was there, the speed of Glenn McGrath, too. But Paul Reiffel was missing.

Funny player, Reiffel. He does not possess the killer ball that Warne can suddenly conjure and his pace, though respectable, hardly ever makes a batsman hurry at Test level. No, his standard delivery is just that, an enticing ball just short of a length that can seam off the pitch either way. The sort of bowler, in short, that one would describe as "English" in character.

The sort of bowler, in fact, who made a fine mess of England's batting line-up the last time Australia toured four years ago. Thrown in to replace the stricken Craig McDermott, he took 19 wickets in three Tests. Warne grabbed the headlines; Reiffel topped the averages with 20.84.

Which made his exclusion from the original party to tour this country an eyebrow-rising one. If you do not pick Reiffel to play over here, when do you select him? It was a thought that plagued the 31-year-old Victorian himself when he heard he had been jettisoned. "It occurred to me that my Test career might be over," he said. "At my age, realistically, I thought I'd never tour England again. I was desperately disappointed."

No ne has fully explained why Reiffel was omitted, although three hamstring injuries in a year did not help. Around the Australian camp there is also the suggestion that he can become gloomy, a half-empty rather than a half- full man when things go wrong.

"I got injured before the first Test in South Africa and never got into the side again," he said. "It was frustrating. I could see things slipping away from me and, with the team doing well, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it."

Left behind in Oz to be as gloomy as he saw fit, Reiffel began training with Victoria, prepared himself for forthcoming fatherhood and paid only limited attention to the television pictures of the first Test that Australia lost by nine wickets. A diet of state cricket seemed to beckon with only a diminishing chance of adding to his 80 Test wickets.

Yet if anyone represents how things can change at bewildering speed in sport, it is him. Injuries to Jason Gillespie and Andrew Bichel meant a pace bowler was required, setting an extraordinary chain of events into motion. Reiffel was summoned on Saturday, was on a plane on Monday and on Thursday was taking three Nottinghamshire wickets for 15 runs in 10 economical overs.

Suddenly a place in the second Test at Lord's, starting on Thursday, is a strong possibili-ty - as is the chance to embarrass the selectors. "I don't think I could be any more determined than if I was selected in the first place," he said. "I'm not driven to prove people wrong. I think I've showed myself over the years that I can bowl at Test level. I'm not going to get hung up about people thinking I'm not good enough.

"It's a great opportunity that I thought I'd lost. The chance has come out of the blue, but I intend to make the most of it. It's a bonus to be playing on the tour at all, never mind the Tests. It's a win situation."

What struck you about Reiffel as soon as he came on to bowl against Nottinghamshire was his instant recognition of the right length in damp English conditions. With his first ball he located the edge of Guy Welton's bat and, although that nick fell short of the slips, his two spells of five overs each were prime examples of the seamer's art.

As the Australian attack has spent a month trying to adjust to English conditions, it was astonishing that a man fresh from a plane and who had not bowled in a first-class game since February should be the first to get there. "My bowling just seems conducive to the conditions over here," he said. "Maybe I subconsciously pitch the ball a bit further up, it does more and allows you to get away with things, but I don't do anything obviously different. I just think you adjust."

He has had to adapt, too, from a man looking in to being part of a squad who have had an unhappy start to the tour. "I didn't see a lot of the Test but from what I did see England looked to be playing very well. They had a good game plan and looked to be sticking to it pretty well all the way through. Australia fought back but you're going to struggle when you lose 9 for 50 on the first morning.

"There wasn't a huge amount of criticism back home. More disbelief, really. The team has done well enough over the last couple of years to have another couple of Tests up their sleeve before they're slagged off really heavily."

As Reiffel was talking, Bichel was learning that his tour was over thanks to a stress reaction in his spine that will mean he must rest for three months. The different futures for the two men was stark. "He's obviously down," Reiffel said. "It's one of those things that happens, you learn things go up and down in sport. My experience shows that things can change pretty quick." It is a lesson England will do well to heed.